Every week the Stereogum staff chooses the five best new songs of the week (the eligibility period begins and ends Thursdays right before midnight). This week’s countdown is below, and you can listen to a playlist of all our 5 Best Songs on Spotify.
Hope everyone had a good holiday. Thanks to the long weekend, we took a break from 5 Best. So, this time around the best songs of the last two weeks are below.
Is Madlib a good older brother or a shitty older brother? It’s a tough question.
On the good side: As a brain-blown rapper and producer, Madlib has clearly laid out the entire blueprint and trajectory for his younger brother Oh No, who’s had a pretty great career in his own right. After years, Madlib and Oh No have finally joined forces for a collaborative project. For the first single, Madlib has put together a lurching, prismatic psychedelic boom-bap beat for his brother to rap over, scratching in sci-fi and Too Short samples catchy enough to work as a hook.
But on the bad side, Madlib has forced his brother to compete, as a rapper, against eternal Detroit precision master Elzhi and against ancestral battle-rap lunatic Chino XL, the latter of whom catches a dose of hallucinatory inspiration and throws frantic punchlines like his very soul depends on it. Is that fair to Oh No? Is that what a good older brother would do? –Tom
Abel Tesfaye has never been a stranger to the ’80s. From earlier key tracks repurposing Siouxsie And The Banshees to mainstream hits with more than a little peak-MJ in their DNA, you could always hear traces of the decade in the Weeknd’s warped, drugged-out strain of depressive contemporary pop. Still, his new single “Blinding Lights” is pretty surprising. Here, Tesfaye delves into that reflection-of-a-reflection zone, the territory of synthwave and the Drive soundtrack.
From its initial, gleaming riff, the effect is immediate. This isn’t the sound of the ’80s exactly, but of an imagined place and time, where Akira-style motorcycles race down elevated highways lined with blurred neon, where that amber twilight of a desert sunset continues in perpetuity. It’s a music of retro-futurist fantasy; it’s also a sound some have already noted being not dissimilar to what we once expected from artists like Twin Shadow earlier in the decade.
In Tesfaye’s hands, “Blinding Lights” doesn’t languish in those reference points. He wields those historical allusions, the insistent drum machine and the crystalline synths, to craft a laser-focused pop song that sounds out of time. And like the best synth-pop gems of the past, Tesfaye walked away with something that’s equally adventurous and nostalgic, equally melancholic and euphoric. –Ryan
Despite all her eye-rolling extracurriculars, Grimes always delivers with the music. The Miss Anthropocene singles have been uniformly darker and more obscure than the airy pop persona she adopted on Art Angels, more in line with her earlier work, and “My Name Is Dark” manages an intoxicating blend of the two. Claire Boucher brings back the chirrupy vocals that made Art Angels so demonically fun, her echoes of “That’s what the drugs are for!” sticking out in a soup that includes scissoring guitars and billowing black-cloud synths.
The song is a paranoia-inducing pump-up fueled by distrust and a lack of sleep. It sounds like it came from the mind of the character in the “Flesh Without Blood” video that spends all her time playing video games in a dark cave, descending further and further into oblivion and subsisting on a cocktail of drugs to stay alert long enough to get to the next level. It’s pretty great. –James
Kvelertak rule. Kvelertak have always ruled. Kvelertak still rule. Now they just rule in a slightly different way. Because now they have a new singer in Ivar Nioklaisen, of Silver and the Good, The Bad, And The Zugly, who can screech with the best of them. And because now they’re leaning even further into the hugely anthemic classic-rock reaches of their underground metal-onslaught sound.
“Bråtebrann” means bonfires in Norwegian, and true to its name, the song is combustible, a collection of propulsive riffs leading up to a beautifully catchy melodic chorus and a ripping guitar solo (Elgitar, kom an!). It fucking rocks. Let’s get a fire going. –Peter
“I can never seem to find it!” That’s Dana Margolin on Porridge Radio’s “Lilac,” lamenting her constant inability to manifest the kindness she knows is inside her somewhere. But it could just as easily be every indie music fan scrolling through dozens of alleged buzz bands on blogs like this one — or every critic digging through a bottomless pile of emails — in search of a song that actually blows you away. Not something that sounds nice and fits your taste profile and seems like it could grow on you, something that grips you right away and sends endorphins screaming across your nervous system and casts so much of that other bullshit into sharp relief. Something like “Lilac.”
With their first single for Secretly Canadian, the Brighton band have made an impression so profound it’s basically a crater. “Lilac” starts out graceful, gorgeous, dramatic, direct. It only intensifies from there. Porridge Radio build to a crescendo that in some songs would qualify as the big finish, Margolin howling with raw fervor about her own futility as if expelling the pessimism from her soul. Then it all bottoms out, clearing space for her new mantra: “I don’t want to get bitter/ I want us to get better/ I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other.”
The phrase repeats and repeats, building momentum and friction along with the music. Everything swirls outward and upward, first with measured grandeur and then with fiery urgency, and then it somehow gets bigger and louder still. Is this the sound of Margolin willing her deepest desires into reality, discovering a way to unlock that elusive kindness? Or is it the sound of raging against the all-consuming chaos only to be swallowed up for good? I’m not sure I even thought about it the first few times I heard “Lilac.” All I could do was gasp. –Chris